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Does Your Pet Have Paunch? How to Know They’re Overweight & What to Do

by | Oct 11, 2023 | Cat Behavior & Care, Dog Training & Care | 0 comments

Does Your Pet Have Paunch?

Ok, who doesn’t love a little paunch on your favorite pet? I have to admit a round fat puppy tummy or chubby kitten tummy just begs to be cuddled. Adult cats commonly have a pouch–primordial pouch–that won’t go away even when they weigh the right amount. So is that a fat cat? Even wild cats have this extra-belly, possibly as an added protection from tooth-and-claw, or to give more flexibility when running. But more than that and it’s important to recognize when it’s a sign of something serious or is putting your pet at risk of long-term harm.

A new survey by Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets revealed only 1 in 5 dog households consider one of their pooches to tip the scales into pudgy status. But even though they agree the pet’s reduced energy and play point to a need for weight reduction, and 85% have TRIED to reduce the munch, the guilt mounts when the pet acts hungry. Who wants to deprive those puppy or kitty eyes?

I get it. The chubby look on some pets can literally melt hearts! 😍But as someone who has been in this industry long enough, I know that a little chubbiness can lead to some pretty large and serious health issues. Paunch and obesity in pets are serious issues you shouldn’t ignore. Let’s take a closer look at pet paunch and what you can do to help manage your pet’s weight.

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, (APOP) 87% of veterinary professionals surveyed consider pet obesity a disease, Their stats in 2022 suggest 59% of pet dogs are overweight and classified 61% of cats as overweight. But the same survey found that fewer pet owners think their pets are obese versus the general percentages that actually are. This means a lot of pet parents aren’t recognizing that pudge as a potential problem.

Want to contribute to research? APOP launched its 2023 survey for pet lovers and veterinarians in the U.S. Take a few minutes to fill out the form about your pets.

fat cat

How to Know if Your Pet Is Overweight

Your pet has extra fat around the belly, spine, base of tail, neck or limbs. Just like people, fat pets can gain weight anywhere on their body. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention surveys pet parents every few years on pet obesity, and is a great resource if you have questions about your pet’s weight gain.

Your pet neglects their personal grooming. Cats and dogs naturally want to keep themselves clean, and will usually try to groom themselves. Fat dogs and overweight cats have trouble reaching their bum, belly, or back. As a result, they develop mats, nasty bottom, or even hot spots.

Moving is more difficult. Extra weight puts more strain on joints, so older pets develop arthritis and have trouble getting around. But young fat pets also have trouble climbing stairs, leaping onto the cat tree, or getting away from a pestering athletic pet.

Breathing issues. Not all breathing issues show weight problems. Some cats could have upper respiratory infection, asthma, or other health challenges. And keep in mind, brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds like Pugs, can snore, snort, and having trouble breathing especially during hot weather or exercise. But if your pudgy pet has labored breathing at rest or after mild exercise, don’t be surprised if your veterinarian recommends a weight-loss program.

Weight gain. If the number on the scale has been creeping up between vet appointments, you may need to get your pet’s weight under control before it impacts their health and comfort. Karma-Kat has always looked chonky, and we didn’t realize how much table muscle he’d gained until his vet visit. Really big dogs, like our Mastiff-Dane Bravo-Dawg have a higher risk of arthritis and joint injuries, and the vet also cautioned us to keep him on the lean side. Weight gain can be a sign of underlying health issues, so if you notice your pet’s poundage creeping up, a trip to your veterinarian for an accurate weight and health check is in order before changing your pet’s diet or drastically increasing their activity..

It’s easy to miss weight gain when you see your pet every day. Besides, we love to love ’em with treats! If you missed it, like we did, give yourself a break and congratulate yourself you got the info at last. That’s why those yearly vet visits are so important!

New information for Future Help

A recent Morris Animal Foundation funded study reported in JAVMA addressed the relationship between spay/neuter and weight gain in pet dogs. They used 155,000 dog records from U.S. Banfield Pet Hospitals, including purebred and mixed dogs, and looked at the size of the animals.Sterilized small dogs had the highest risk of obesity; giant breeds had the lowest risk. However, Labs, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers showed the same level of risk as small dogs. Male dogs had a higher risk than females.

Timing also played a role, according to the study. Sterilizing at one year of age lowered the risk, while large dogs sterilized at three to six months had an increased risk of developing obesity.

That’s not to suggest that you shouldn’t “fix” your pets. But this information should help better plan timing, and nutritional adjustments, to keep our pet dogs at optimal health.

fat dog

10 Tips to Prevent the Pet Paunch

Move up your pet’s annual veterinary exam. Reducing your pet’s paunch is a great health goal but it’s a step that should always be taken in partnership with your veterinarian. Rule out any physical limitations or underlying health issues and get your pet accurately weighed at your vet’s office.

Improve your treat game. Look for low calorie, nutrient-dense treats. My Karma-Kat and Shadow-Pup love their treats, but we limit the amount and make sure both of them WORK for the indulgence. You can reduce calories by reserving part of the mean as treats at other times.

Make sure your pet isn’t stealing another pet’s food. Managing multiple pets with different dietary needs is tricky. I’m a big fan of pet gates, or meal feeding pets with supervision. Cat food placed on counters keeps dogs from stealing. It’s all about management. My ComPETability books offer a variety of ways to manage feeding time with multiple pets.

Modify nutrition and measure meals with help from your vet. Yes, you can find “lite” commercial foods for dogs and cats, BUT… they are only “lite” in calories compared to the same brand’s regular food. A half-cup of one brand of dog food may have a lot more calories than a half-cup of another – but it could also be more nutritionally complete, too! Because there are so many pet diets on the market, get your veterinarian’s recommendation for an overweight pet. If pet food labels make your head spin, you can learn more about what you should look for here.

Bond and have fun exercising together! Exercise is fun! My dog loves playing fetch, and chasing his flirt pole. Karma-Kat enjoys bird “TV” out the window, and in nice weather, we go for leash walks outside. Make exercise a daily habit. Start slowly if you haven’t regularly been playing with your pet. Flying leaps and skidding across smooth floors can injure under-used muscles. Here are more suggestions for dog exercises and if you have a cat, refer to this post for cat exercise.

Walks are a game-changer. You can switch up daily walks to be more than just potty breaks. Take an extra lap, try walking uphill, gradually quicken the pace, or choose a different route to make walks more interesting and burn a few more calories.

Restrict access to treats. If you reward your pet with a handful of treats instead of just one, or if your pet steals treats from the food bag, it’s time to break your bad habit. Yes, it’s YOUR habit (you let it happen, LOL!) so invest in pet-proof locks or train the kids and spouse better. Clicker training works for kids and spouses, ya know!

Move the location where your pet has meals. Can you easily move your pet’s food and water bowls? Try making your pet climb stairs, scale the cat tree, or use a food puzzle toy to slow down pets that gobble food.  Just be sure you aren’t making it way too hard for your pet to reach the nutrition they need.

Stay hydrated. Keep that water bowl (or bowls!) full of fresh water. Pets need to drink enough water to stay hydrated. We have several large bowls of water, and fountains, for our dog and cat. Good hydration is important for the overall health of your dog or cat.

Be patient. Beggars, garbage-can diggers and food thieves will need time to unlearn those habits. Pets that lived on the streets prior to adoption often develop these survival habits, so you really can’t blame them. No pet is perfect. Patience is key! Learn more tips for slimming a fat cat here, and for dealing with an obese dog here.

Feed a reducing diet. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation. There are many wonderful foods now available scientifically designed to help lose body fat while maintaining lean muscle mass. 

When you’re looking for ways to improve your pet’s health, always clear any advice you see online or hear from friends with your veterinarian. So, does your pet have a little extra around the middle? Which of these tips are you going to try first?

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!

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